After four days of interviews that were akin to speed dating, the top prospects for the 2011 Entry Draft are ready to strip off their suits and ties and get ready for two days of fitness testing here at the NHL Scouting Combine.
NHL teams met with the prospects in 20-minute blocks during the interview process, with some having as many as 15 interviews on one day, and some players meeting with 29 of the 30 teams.
For the top players, however, one question almost all of them heard was whether they felt they were ready to play in the NHL next season.
"I told them yes," said Kitchener Rangers left wing Gabriel Landeskog
, NHL Central Scouting's No. 2-ranked skater in its final listing of North American skaters for next month's draft. "I feel like I'm ready. Obviously I feel like there's parts of my game I need to get better at, but I feel like I'm more than willing to put down the work that's needed."
"I think that I am ready to play," added Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, No. 1 on Central Scouting's list. "I think I've taken some big strides this year. I put on five pounds since the end of the season and I feel I can put 5-10 more pounds on. And if I do, I'll be ready to make the jump."
"I tell them I think so, depending on their needs and depending on what they want," said Drummondville Voltigeurs center Sean Couturier
, No. 6 on Central Scouting's list. "I think I'm ready."
What they have to get ready for next is the fitness testing portion of the Combine. Some of the tests are fairly easy -- push-ups, sit-ups, grip tests, bench press. They're not exactly hockey-related, but can show certain things to the scouts who will be watching.
"People say bench press doesn't score goals," said Niagara IceDogs defenseman Dougie Hamilton
, Central Scouting's top-rated North American defenseman, "but it's something you have to be prepared for so you don't lack on it."
Nugent-Hopkins, listed at 6-feet tall and 164 pounds, expects to have a bit of difficulty in one particular area.
"I'm not a big bench press guy, as you can probably tell," he joked.
While those tests might be something the average person could handle, there are two particular tests that have gained a wicked reputation over the years. They've come to be known ominously as "The Bikes."
The final two tests in the fitness circuit are a pair of stationary bikes, one called the Wingate Cycle Ergometer, which measures a player's power output during a 30-second burst, and the VO2 Max test, which measures a player's endurance.
They're renowned for leaving players drenched in sweat and gasping for air -- some players even become physically ill.
"I've heard a couple (horror stories), people throwing up here and there," Landeskog said. "I'm just going to go in there and do my best and see how it goes."
Most, like Landeskog, were told by teammates about what to expect from the bike tests. Landeskog got advice from Carolina Hurricanes
rookie Jeff Skinner
, a teammate in Kitchener who went through it at last year's Combine. Hamilton's brother, Freddie, also survived the 2010 Combine, as did Nugent-Hopkins' teammate Alex Petrovic
"He didn't say anything too bad about it," Nugent-Hopkins said of Petrovic. "He just said to be myself and just have fun. You only go through it once, so just have fun with it."
The Wingate test is geared to measure how much energy a player uses during an average NHL shift.
"If you've got somebody who is killing a penalty or someone who is trying to score a goal and you've got them on the ice for 30 seconds, what this tells us is what they have left at the end of 30 seconds," Dr. Norm Gledhill, Director of Human Performance Lab at York University, who supervises the fitness testing, told NHL.com.
The VO2 max measures a player's aerobic fitness.
"If the anaerobic (Wingate) is a shift, the VO2 max is a game," said Gledhill. "If they go into overtime what do they have left? The higher the aerobic fitness, the better fitness over the duration of the game."
Landeskog said he's gone through the same kind of circuit twice and survived. However, he's never had to go through it in a ballroom like the Toronto Congress Center, with 30 future employers and a cadre of media watching.
Skelleftea defenseman Adam Larsson
, Central Scouting's top-rated European skater, said he's gone through testing at home in Sweden -- but never in front of an audience. However, he said he's looking forward to performing in front of a big crowd.
"It'll be fun," he said with a smile.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com